ADDRESSING PRIVACY CONCERNS and other questions
Can my DNA testing be used for other purposes?
The answer is no, if you examine the Family Tree DNA website they clearly state that your DNA Testing cannot be used for any other purpose. The science behind this type of testing fully supports this type of statement. Besides I don't think any company would make such a public statement unless it were true.
Unfortunately, too many people believe what they see on television, hollywood only gets it half right most of the time. But shows like CSI have many fearful that there DNA results can be used for things outside of genealogical testing. This simply is not the case. More than once the concern that a persons DNA study participation could end up on shows like Nightline has been expressed.
Shows like CSI glamorize DNA testing and while these type of shows contain some technical accuracy they do not represent a true picture and they often show practices that would not meet chain of custody requirements, making their implied representations nothing more than Hollywood hype. On these shows you hear about CODIS, which is used by law enforcement, it does actually exist, however which with the exception of only one marker from Chromosome 23 that indicates a persons sex CODIS uses nothing but Autosomal DNA (chromosomes 1-22) which is inherited 50% from each parent. It has nothing to do with Genealogical DNA testing, does not involve the same genes or even the same chromosomes.
In a nutshell
DNA Testing for genealogical purposes is done against junk DNA (DNA that has become inactive over of a millennia by evolution) on Chromosome 23 the sex chromosome. Because this DNA is shared by large numbers of people and does not recombine with each birth it is ideal for genealogy but the the fact that large numbers involved preclude its use for identification.
Because this DNA is inactive non-coding DNA, it has nothing to do with biological functions, therefore it cannot not be used to assess health risks. Even if the above were not the case the courts require a chain of custody which does not exist in this type of testing. Because a proper chain of custody does not exist in this type of DNA testing the chances of it every being requested by a court are near absolutely zero because such evidence would be inadmissible. While Family Tree DNA will store your DNA for you to facilitate future testing they will destroy it upon request, and require your written permission to make your results available to any DNA studies you participate in.
The simple fact is DNA testing done for forensic purposes and for paternity cases is done using entirely Autosomal DNA making it ideal for identification but useless for genealogy.
By the same token the Gonosomal DNA used for Genealogy testing is totally useless to law enforcement.
So to summarize, the physical science and and the rigit requirements of forensic science prevents the misuse of your DNA testing for other purposes. However there is one exception, your DNA sample when stored can be used by a court order as a forensic reference in an investigation, but because chain of custody requirements are not met the results of any forensic testing on the DNA sample would generally be inadmissible in court. If this is a concern for you, simply ask your sample be destroyed after all your testing is completed. Doing so in writing and requiring an written acknowledgement of compliance to such a request will certainly guarantee your request will most certainly gaurantee your sample is destroyed.
If you still have concerns then simply do your testing anonymously. You can make arrangements with the Study admin to collect your money for testing ahead of time, and the admin can arrange a sample test kit be sent to you indirectly thru the study admin. The admin can simply have you listed for testing purposes as anonymous participant. Only the admin knows who you are, even the DNA testing company has no idea who you are. Another lesser alternative is to simple write on the release form that comes with your test kit to words "DO NOT ENTER REAL NAME/ADDRESS IN RESULT DATABASE, IDENTIFY PARTICIPANT AS ANONYMOUS".
Who conducts these DNA studies and how are they funded?
Companies like Family Tree DNA provide a forum for volunteers who share a common interest like having a specific surname to conduct thier DNA Study. In many cases the person or person's conducting a study are also on a genealogy quest of their own. And in almost every case these studies are an unfunded venture which require huge amounts of time and effort to be invested by those who administer a study.
Who pays for the testing?
Almost always the participants do. However many study administrators who want their study to succeed will often help with the cost, however it should not be expected, as it is generally the exception. Family Tree DNA makes a general fund available for each study that people can contribute to so others who cannot afford testing can use those funds. How those funds are used are up to each study administrator. However they can only be used for DNA testing with Family Tree DNA for the study which they were contributed to.
What happens after I submit my DNA Samples for Testing?
Family Tree DNA assigns your sample to a lab batch and sends that batch to the lab for testing, it can take up to 6 weeks for the initial testing results to come back, subsequent testing against your DNA samples often will take less time however.
Family Tree DNA will assign you a kit # and login password so that you can get your results online when they become available.
The participant and the study administers are notified by email along each step of the way by Family Tree DNA.
It is the study administrator responsibility to decide how they conduct their study and how to apply the results. Each study administrator decides how they will conduct their study as well as the requirements for participation.
Not all the results will come back at the same time. It often comes back in stages. However once at least 12 markers are Family Tree DNA will estimate what Haplogroup you fit into. Because a Haplogroup has to do with migration patterns you cannot be related to some in a different Haplogroup. It is at this point that Family Tree DNA will offer SNP testing. If you match someone else in a study and they have already done SNP testing it is a waste of money to have this done as your SNP results would be the same as the person's) whom you matched. You should let the study administrator tell you if an SNP test is needed.
What is SNP testing?
Family Tree DNA estimates your Haplogroup based on statistical probabilities and the values of certain markers. However this is just an estimation. There are certain markers that they can look for that have a specific DNA signature that represent specific points in evolution and migration patterns. SNP testing looks closely for these markers. Essentially putting science behind the original estimates.
How many markers should I have tested?
I personally recommend 37 or 67 if done by Family Tree DNA or 43 if done by DNA Heritage. Anything less might be wasting the study admins time as upgrading to more markers will likely be needed and admins have better things to do then spending untold hours contacting participants to try to convince them to spend the money to upgrade thier marker resolution.
Since each test has a considerable amount of time before results are available this individual decision has a lot to do with how patient you are and how much you are willing to spend at one time. It is a little cheaper to have more markers done at once. However Family Tree DNA and DNA Heritage has this setup so that you can do your testing in stages.
Each study has different requirements, however most studies leave the choice of the number of markers up to the participant. A lot of people choose do the cheapest test which is 12 markers, its enough to develop a Haplogroup estimate, and enough to rule out a match, however it is not enough to rule in a match, and is not particularly useful for genealogy studies, as at least 20 markers are needed to even consider a match. Whenever possible a participant should do at least the 25 marker test. If you only do 12 markers and get a match then upgrading to at least 25 markers will be required to truly determine if a match really existed.
However 25 markers is still very limiting as a match could still mean a potential common ancestor exist hundreds or even over a thousand years ago, long before surnames were in use. Its equivalent to matching needles in a haystack, its enough to say that the persons who matched are probably from the same tree. But identifying the branches on the tree is very difficult. That's were 37 markers comes in to play. The 67 Markers come into play once you have a group of participants who match and you want to determine how the family tree split with various generations. At this level you will often need multiple cousins from the different branches to have the full 67 markers done in order to see the mutations that occurred with each generation.
Even when you have matches that appear exact, there are some cases with certain groups within a Haplogroup where some of the advanced tests may be required. This is especially true for persons who are in the I Haplogroup. Generally a study administrator should indicate if such tests are needed.
Generally 37 Markers is sufficient for most comparisons as it better determines if a person is even distantly related, but at 37 Markers your still dealing in a resolution of the orders of tens of generations.
It takes 67 Markers to get within a 50% match probably on the order of less than 10 generations.
There is another consideration that must be accounted for when deciding how many markers to test for, currently FTDNA promotes a method of calculating genetic distance by including all marker mutations. DNA Heritage promotes not considering what are called multicopy markers because mutations in those markers are influenced by overlapping adjacent DNA markers. I have heard from serveral study admins where they had known cousins test and show up unrelated using the FTDNA method. When the DNA Heritage mothod was used the expected correct result was used.
However this leads to a secondary problem that occurs when testing only 25 markers. After these multicopy markers are excluded there are less than 20 markers available to do a comparison. Too few to be useful. So its always best to test 37 or more markers with FTDNA or 43 markers with DNA Heritage.
I have other questions that were not answered here?
Well, each study administrator should be able to answer most of your questions, or find the answers to your questions? A lot of information is also available online, but it may be very technical. Family Tree DNA is also very good at answering questions put to them, however it may take a day or so to get an answer.
I am ready to participate, how do I sign up?
Simple, just click on JOIN PROJECT above and provide the requested information.
Now that I have signed up, what happens next?
We wait, it takes up to 6 weeks for initial results to come back, sometimes in less time. It appears the amount of time might be influenced by the quality of the DNA samples taken. So care should be exercised to get good samples.
The results will come back in stages, however early on Family Tree DNA will be able to estimate what Haplogroup you belong too. At this point Family Tree DNA will offer SNP testing. The Haplogroup estimate is based on your marker values and statistical probabilities, SNP testing actually looks at the genetic alphabet a specific locations for know markers that have been correlated with specific evolution and migration patterns. This testing is highly important to have done. But if you match someone else who has already had it done, their SNP results will apply to you, so repeating what they have already had done will be a waste of money. Best to leave this to the project administrator to recommend.
Once results start rolling in, the project administrator will start comparing the results with others and will post the results of that work on the project website.
Once you have some results come in Family Tree DNA will notify you and the project administrators, they will provide you with a Family Tree DNA website login at this stage, you should update your profile on their site so that it includes information about your most distant ancestors, as this is critically important information for correlating matches to others with similar origins, without some of the information from your testing becomes meaningless as your tests mean little by itself its when it is considered with a large pool of other participants that it means something. You should also upload a gedcom file as well so that your pedigree is available for others to if they match you.
I strongly urge you upload your results to Ysearch.org which you can do from the FTDNA website. You should also upload your gedcom on that site also. The YSearch site allows you and others to find matches but in such a way you more control on how the results are compared, the site is also used by researchers to broaden their pool of information for academic work they might be doing.
And last you should consider joining the National Genographic Project and the Sorenson project. The National Genographic Project you can do from FTDNA's website, and there is a small fee. The Sorenson project is free but they do not provide any results and require a 4 generation pedigree.
The National Genographic Project is important because it is the largest project out there and well publicized, and the more people who contribute their DNA to the project will ultimate provide huge benefits in terms of the science in terms of understanding population migrations and history.
The Sorenson project is important because they are doing some very specialized scientific research that will broaden the understanding of the science and may ultimately refine the existing Haplogroup understanding.
I HAVE MY DNA TESTING RESULTS NOW WHAT?
If your part of a DNA STUDY GROUP the STUDY ADMIN will often communicate with you, either to lend thier interpretation, or to suggest further tests needed to make your participation in the study useful. However beware that most DNA Study Admins are not scientists, and thier skill level, knowledge, and interpretation of the results vary. Most start out like you, as novice lay people who have to learn as they go along.
When there is a match between two subjects (when 37 or markers are tested) who do not have the same surname it is an indication that there may be a common ancestor who existed before surnames were in use (about 1200 AD) or that a surname aberration has occurred such as a birth out of wedlock, or the surname was changed. Today that may occur with a legal name change, or adoption, however centuries ago this sometimes occurred when a the parents of a child died and the orphan child was cared for by friends of the family or the child was already bound out when the parents died. In some cases a surname was simply assumed by an individual.
When a person gets their DNA tested they will be often be notified by the testing company of others who match their DNA. Attempts to contact those who are DNA matches can be frustrating because people test for a lot of reasons, and many are not into hard core genealogy, most do not bother to submit their results to DNA search sites like YSearch and likewise neglect to upload their GEDCOM. Many simply have no understanding of what they are dealing with and are under the mistaken impression that they will get a magical answer to a dead end in their genealogical research. There are even some people who expect the an analysis similar to the results you might get from a doctor who explains what it all means. The reality is people have to learn this complex stuff to be able to do anything useful with their test results.
The lack of pedigree information in the many dna databases is particularly frustrating, as finding a match in any of the searchable databases is completely useless without the pedigree being there as well. So few understand the importance of this. Even when pedigree information is available it is only as good as the research behind it. There is a lot out there of what some of us call junk genealogy. It is ironic to find so many who fit in this junk genealogy class turning to DNA which is very finite science. It is sort of like mixing oil and water.
Because this type of DNA testing deals with deep ancestry of common ancestors a long long time ago a match that breaks new ground in genealogical research is rare, and when it does occur it happens when matched individuals get together, compare notes, and do more hard core traditional research.
This is not to say that one should not contact those whom have DNA matches, personally I recommend some thought be given ahead of time to how best approach this. I have often ended up educating those contacted, or had to assist them in furthering their research. And sometimes there is even someone who just does not want to deal with anyone who does not have the same last name.
After being tested, the testing company will often tell you what Haplogroup your DNA belongs, a Haplogroup deals with the migration patterns of ancestors a long time ago when the earth was a younger planet. Think about the ICE age and your in the neighborhood in terms of time periods. Initially the Haplogroup determination is estimated by marker values from statistical patterns established by others who have had their DNA tested as well as some of the ancient specimens that have been found over many years.
Because Haplogroup determination is estimated it needs further refinement, which is where SNP testing comes in, with this testing the actual DNA alphabet is looked at closely to possibly determine whether the subject belongs in a sub-Haplogroup. Essentially moving the ancient ancestor for which the Haplogroup represents forward a few thousand years. This can often be helpful because Haplogroup assignments are scientifically designated by migration patterns.
When you have a group of people who genetically match, especially in surname testing, it is only necessary to do SNP genotype testing on one of those people. Because all those who matched will have the same results.